Fans of Mountain View and Empire high schools were treated to a match that extended well into the night on Thursday.
The hometown Lions (9-14) and Ravens (17-9) engaged in a five-set classic, with the visitors from Vail coming away with a hard-earned win, 25-9, 22-25, 21-25, 25-7 and 15-13.
The result and the Lions’ nightlong fight were pleasant surprises for second-year coach Jose Robles, who was forced to start three freshmen against a veteran Ravens roster.
“Honestly, I'm happy with this loss. This is the best we've played in a while. As you can see from our record, we haven't been doing pretty well,” Robles said. “A big thing for me is the way we lose. And those girls gave heart. I mean I had three freshmen playing out there.
“They balled out. Freshman definitely stepped up, which forced my upper classes to step up and I think we played really well.”
The Lions showed a lot of grit and guile, responding to a first set shellacking to win the next two sets, thanks to a relentless front-line effort that returned serve with ease.
Robles called the team’s loss on Thursday a learning moment for all involved, with players gaining valuable experience and confidence in what’s been a difficult year for the team.
“Today was probably one of the youngest lineups I put out there. I mean in the first set I had literally four JV players playing. The oldest girl out there, it was probably a junior,” Robles said. “And next set, as we saw the seniors stepped up. I'm really hoping that we can learn from this and we just push for the rest of the season knowing that we can compete now at this level.”
The key to the team’s success against the 15th-ranked team in 5A, according to junior co-captain Jaelin Reeb, was their ability to stay composed under pressure.
Reeb praised her teammates for not getting down after getting thumped by the Ravens in the match’s opening set, gaining confidence as the night unfolded.
“I think just trusting each other and communicating was a lot better,” Reeb said. “And we had some new people, but we still stuck together.”
Senior Jasmine Coleman-Dunlap said the key to the team’s ability to hang with Empire was their ability to communicate through the match, which allowed them to stay in position and return balls on Thursday.
“We talked very well during this game. We put everybody's name on it, we called for the ball, we did good with talking,” Coleman-Dunlap said. “And that's what made us push more and get more into the game. We pushed it by a set, so that's good.”
Robles believes Thursday’s match can serve as a rallying point for the rest of the regular season, as the Lions look to gain confidence with a youthful roster.
“I think a big thing is just not getting down on ourselves. This is the first match I've seen where we didn't let mistakes get the better of us,” Robles said. “We fought hard. Empire's a talented team, I'm going to give them that.
“This is a huge confidence booster to us. Even though we lost still, us playing really well this match is going to hopefully change our season.”
Around the region:
Elsewhere in Southern Arizona, the Canyon del Oro Dorados improved to 10-7 for the year, sweeping Vista Grande on Thursday, Oct. 10.
The Dorados returned to the court to play Salpointe Catholic on Monday, Oct. 21 and against Sahuaro on Tuesday, Oct. 22, and next face Casa Grande at home on Thursday, Oct. 24.
The Catalina Foothills Falcons fell to 18-11 for the year, after losing to Salpointe Catholic in three sets on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
The Falcons returned to play Vista Grande on Tuesday night and next face Sahuaro on the road at 6 p.m. ln Thursday.
The Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks beat Cienega in four sets on Tuesday, Oct. 15 and played Marana on the road on Tuesday night.
The Nighthawks, who are 21-12 this season, face Nogales at home on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m., and play Sunnyside and Buena on the road at the same time on Thursday and Saturday.
The Marana Tigers (15-3) played Rincon/University on Friday night and IRHS on Tuesday and next face Buena in Sierra Vista on Thursday, Oct. 24.
The Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions (14-10) split their matches, sweeping Sahuarita before falling to Tanque Verde in four sets on Thursday.
The Lions faced Fountain Hills on Saturday and Sabino on Tuesday and next face the Sahuarita Mustangs on the road on Thursday, Oct. 24.